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This article argues that color in commercial communication is more than a semiological tool; it can also provide a window into matters of greatest concern in the debate over globalization. Using data drawn from samples in Japan, America and Malaysia, sign-work pertaining to color is often found to be idiosyncratic and localized, while in other cases, it adheres to global convention. Certain meanings pertaining to desire, for instance, or gender, are loaded in color and are universally decipherable. Moreover, certain significations belong to categories shared across nations. Among these are the syntagms "black-and-white", "tonal vocabulary", "primary colors", "national colors", "cultural colors", and "privileged colors". Within these categories, though, unique contents appear that work to delimit globalization’s seemingly inexorable progress. What all of this ultimately means is that color is important for sociological - rather than merely semiological - reasons. Coloration can serve as an entrée into deeper, ontological questions concerning the nature of society, and for this reason, it must be understood as an essential code, in any commercial analysis.


Globalization - Semiotics - Television advertising - Color - Comparative Culture 


Todd Joseph Miles Holden is Professor of Mediated Sociology and Chair of the Department of Multi-Cultural Societies at Tohoku University, in Sendai, Japan. His research interests encompass social theory, semiology, advertising, gender, political communication and comparative culture. Publications include the forthcoming collection: Globalization, Inequality and Culture in Asia (co-edited with Tim Scrase and Scott Baum) and the book (in Japanese), Reading Signs: Language, Culture and Society. His empirical studies in context include nation-building in Malaysian advertising, political advertising in Japan, and Japanese cyber-dating.


This article is based on a conference article presented at the 2002 conference of the Asia-Pacific Sociological Association in Brisbane, Australia ("Asia-Pacific Societies: Contrasts, Challenges, and Crises"). 


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